I don’t know.
I always figured it was. In the wider media and world “bisexual” means “someone who dates men and women”. But then, transphobic is the wider world’s default state, so that limited interpretation isn’t necessarily the fault of bisexuality, but the world.
I looked up the Bi Flag the other day, and was surprised to find out the true meanings of the colours. I’d always figured Pink was Women, Blue was Men and the overlapping Purple was “we date both, deal with it”. That’s not right at all. Designed in 1998, the Pink is “the possibility of same gender attraction”, the Blue is “the possibility of opposite gender attraction” and the Purple is, drumroll, “the possibility of attraction all along the gender spectrum”. Purple is after all the Trans-pride colour.
That sounds good, but wikipedia doesn’t mean what you think it means; in fact, it’s downright wrong. If you read the original creator’s original statement, he says “the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi).” Which is a shame, and I think keeping wiki’s original mistake is far nicer.
Looking closely at words, or flags, is a lazy form of argument. In fact, you see transphobes use it all the time in a blockheaded fashion – “well, you can’t be transsexual because your DNA is still the same and you can’t possibly change your sex”, as if the Trans* community should simply change their identity label and that would make all the difference. “I’m not transphobic, I’m just a pedant for etymology…!”
Nevertheless, I hear “bisexual” and I hear “attracted to both genders”. Whether or not it’s always true of all self-identified bisexual folks. An identity label is many things – it has to chime with your Personal Sense of Self, but it also has to be accurate advertising. So I think I’m still happier using “pan” than “bi”. Imagining myself as a Trans* person: if I met a bisexual person I’d still have to work out whether this was a person who accepted my identity or not. By using “pan”, I hope to flag up that I’m up for dating anyone, and explicitly inviting non-binary people or people with a complicated gender history to ask me out. Instead of leaving this question mark as to whether I mean “bi” as in “both” or “bi” as in “all”. Greek has a perfectly handy prefix meaning all – “pan” – so it seems stubborn and deliberately confusing not to use it.
I see it as more inclusive term. I don’t want to increase the binarism in the world when I have the learning, experiences and words to do otherwise. I like the conversations it starts, almost accidentally, with straight folks – it’s a non-confrontational way to introduce the idea of multiple genders. I don’t want to erase the non-binary folk in my past from my relationship history by using a word that in so many places, still means “men and women”. I don’t want to discourage hypothetical, imagined non-binary folk in my future from pursuing me because they interpret my word as not including them. And in general, it’s a word that makes me happy.
So…I don’t think “Bisexual” has to be binaristic, and maybe it just needs to be reclaimed and loudly. But isn’t it useful to have that word that meaning “I exclude non-binary people” if, indeed, that’s what you do – just to help communication?
What do you think, readers?
It often feels to me as if bisexuality is never really about our own sexual identity(ies)…I feel that my sexual identity (i.e. whether I should identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc.) is expected to be determined according to other people’s gender identity.
The author, a genderqueer bisexual person, sees “bisexuality is transphobic” as erasing, biphobic, and related to histories of Trans* oppression in the gay and lesbian community not about the bi community at all. For example, “bisexuals prop up the gender binary”. She sees as a wider trend of blaming bisexuals and seeing them as kyriarchal instead of a minority in their own right (i.e., like excluding bisexuals for their “passing privilege”). I think this is a really cool point, and the article deserves to be read and pondered in full.
I still prefer pan, because it far better expresses what I mean. But it’s an interesting article.